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    « Stop Doing Stupid Things | Main | An Opportunity for 2009, Wait 2010 »
    Monday
    Dec282009

    The Eminent Workforce

    This long holiday weekend I came across the text of a speech given by Jon Iwata, SVP of Communications and Marketing from IBM at the November 4th 2009 Institute for Public Relations Distinguished Lecture Series at the Yale Club in New York City.

    The full text of the speech is available at the 'points of view' Blog - here. Flickr - Tico

    It is really worth the time to read the entire speech, but one theme in particular stood out for me, and that is IBM's idea of something they call the 'Eminent Workforce' and why these new capabilities will be essential for successful organizations in the future.

    Iwata anticipates an environment where organizations will enlist, marshal, and support employees as product/service and brand ambassadors:

    And all companies will then flood the Net with their people, in the same way we flooded the World Wide Web with websites and content a decade ago.

    But simply getting more employees blogging and tweeting about your company does not actually add any real business value if these employees are not seen and recognized as trustworthy, knowledgeable, and authentic.

    What do I mean by “eminence”? No matter what their industry, their profession, their discipline or their job, people with eminence are acknowledged by others as expert. It’s not simply to know a lot about Tuscan villas, digital cameras or banking. You need to be recognized as an expert. And when you show up – in person, or online; in writing, or in conversation – you are both knowledgeable and persuasive.

    The challenges to organizations, and in particular the corporate communications professionals that Iwata was addressing, and I think by extension Human Resources leaders, are several:

    Building the capabilities of the workforce

    As Iwata accurately observes, simply setting a few policies and hoping for the best outcomes is not likely to be a successful strategy. Your organization is likely full of 'experts' in their given fields, but translating that expertise for consumption in what Iwata refers to as the 'Global Commons' will require new strategies in talent acquisition, more training, and ongoing support.  Alignment of the most critical HR foundational elements (leadership competency, performance management, development) with the brand strategies is HR's opportunity and challenge.

    Ceding control of the internal message

    Public forums, product review and evaluation sites, company rating sites like Glassdoor, and social networks have allowed every customer, supplier, critic, and the like to have a say about your organization, its reputation and products and services. By the end of 2009, most all marketing and communications professionals have at least recognized this, and many have devised and implemented strategies for addressing this new reality.

    But most organizations still control (or attempt to control) the 'internal' messaging.  Corporate communications and marketing are the 'official' spokespeople for news and information for the organization. Most of the employees are on social networks, some blog, but very few of them are authorized as speaking for the company on any level.  Iwata advises that communications (and really HR as well) must get over the notion that only they can craft messages, produce content, and actually represent the organization.

    Culture becomes brand

    In this new world, where hundreds and perhaps thousands of employees are interacting online and influencing the perception of the organization, it is essential that every employee is completely grounded in the organization's values and culture. Iwata describes a branding model that moves from outward manifestations of the brand image, 'What does IBM look like', all the way to internal and cultural expressions, 'What does it mean to 'be' IBM'.  Moving across the model it becomes clear that most of the important understanding and work is really about the actions and performance of people, and not as much about clever TV ads and jingles. 

    As the external consumer brand becomes more intertwined with the internal brand, or company culture, the importance of HR leaders, and the opportunity for HR to have a much more influential position in the real business outcomes of the organization dramatically increases.  According to Iwata, In many ways, the management and alignment with the external brand with the organizational culture, as well as the classic and traditional communications roles is a new organizational discipline.

    I really encourage you to read the entire speech, as I read through this post I am not sure I really did it justice.

    What do you think? 

    Are we truly entering a world where organizations will be managing potentially the entire workforce as brand ambassadors?

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